Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Steelworkers union gets Wall Street attention

It's not too often a paper like the Wall Street Journal writes a positive story about a union (if ever), but as the AFL-CIO blog points out, even Wall Street can't help but admire success.
Today’s Wall Street Journal takes note of the United Steelworkers (USW) successful corporate strategies. As the Journal writes, the union’s
…strategy, rather than simply to pound the table for higher pay or threaten strikes, is to block takeovers, take sides in bidding wars and fight for board seats.
The paper cites the example of Brazilian steel corporation CSN, which maneuvered last year to merge with Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.
The USW wanted what it considered a more union-friendly bidder than CSN, and found one in Chicago upstart Esmark Inc. Executives of Esmark promised that if they got hold of Wheeling-Pitt, there would be no union layoffs there. The union threw its weight behind Esmark, which then mounted a fierce proxy fight to oust the Wheeling-Pitt board. In November, it won handily.

“We turned the entire board over in one day—little old Steelworkers and little old Esmark,” says Ron Bloom, the steel union’s point man in the battle.
Bloom is the economic advisor and assistant to International Union President, Leo Gerard, and he's also a former Wall Street investment banker who joined the USW as a strategy advisor in 1996. His pedigree as a former Wall Streeter may be one reason the WSJ wrote about the union, but he definitely has some populist ideas that show concern and respect for those of us who worry about losing our jobs to outsourcing.

Here's a
sample of some remarks Bloom delivered last year to the INSOL International Annual Regional Conference [pdf] [emphasis mine]:
We certainly acknowledge that we live in a global market economy, but we make no apology for our belief that the market does not adequately express the value of labor. This is the fundamental reason why workers act collectively—so that they can achieve more for themselves than the market would otherwise provide.

Now we happen to believe that this structure is an intrinsic part of a democratic and just society. But whether you agree with that or not, the fact is that in normal times, and even more so in an insolvency, when everything is both figuratively and literally up for grabs, you should expect that we will use our collective strength to protect what we have worked so hard to achieve.

I also cannot help noting that I find it more than a little incongruous to be told by someone making more in an hour than a pensioner receives in a month that pension benefits and the union who helped secure them are the cause of the company’s problem.

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